The Unforgiveable Sin

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The unforgiveable sin. Those concepts strike terror into the hearts of some, and confusion into the minds of others. But Jesus didn’t want anyone to be confused, and he didn’t want to terrify those who fear him. So let’s look at what Jesus said, to find out what he means.

False Accusations

We find the account in Mark 3:22-30, Matthew 12:22-37 and Luke 11:17-26, 12:8-10. The different writers give us different details, and by looking at all three accounts, we’re able to get the full picture.

Mark tells us exactly why Jesus said what he did about the unforgiveable sin. “He said this because they [the Pharisees and teachers of the law] were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.’” (Mark 3:30).

Although the Pharisees made the accusation against Jesus, the unforgiveable sin is not blasphemy against him. “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven” (Matt. 12:32). It’s only blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that will not be forgiven.

And that’s what the Pharisees had done. Jesus had healed a demon-possessed man, who was blind and mute. The Pharisees knew this. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe Jesus had done it. They didn’t accuse Him of trickery or deception (that would have been blasphemy against the Son of Man). Instead they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons” (Matt. 12:24). Except that it wasn’t by Beelzebul. As Jesus made clear, it was “by the Spirit of God” (12:28), or as Luke puts it, “by the finger of God” (Luke 11:20).

Ordinary people saw the same miracle and concluded, “Could this be the son of David?” (Matt. 12:23). But against all the evidence (12:25-29), the Pharisees concluded the opposite. That’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — seeing and knowing the gracious power of God, and deliberately choosing, against all rational logic, to absolutely reject Him.

The Pharisees couldn’t deny Jesus’ power. They knew that it was greater than the power of evil. But rather than embracing God’s righteous servant, they chose to reject him.

“Forgiveable” sin

Make no mistake, rejecting Jesus as Messiah is a very dangerous sin. But it’s a “forgiveable” sin. There are countless examples in the Bible of people who came to receive Jesus as Messiah only after previously rejecting him. Take Paul as an example. “Even though I was once a blasphemer… I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13).

If he’d continued to reject Christ after his Damascus road experience, could there have been forgiveness then? Almost certainly not, because then he was no longer ignorant — he knew the power of God. That experience was probably his final opportunity to respond in faith.

A similar situation occurred when Moses confronted Pharaoh. We understand why Pharaoh didn’t listen to Moses at first. After all, his own magicians were able to replicate Aaron’s staff turning into a snake (Exodus 7:8-13), and the first two plagues — turning the Nile into blood (7:22-23), and the plague of frogs (8:7). Pharaoh knew he was dealing with a great power, but he didn’t know that he was dealing with the only true God.

Then came the plague of gnats. This time, “when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not” (8:18). The magicians concluded “This is the finger of God” (8:19). That’s exactly the same phrase that Luke used when describing the unforgiveable sin. It’s equivalent to saying “by the Spirit of God”.

“But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen” (8:19). So God sent the plague of flies. Pharaoh knew he was seeing something extraordinary, and agrees the people can go. He even asks Moses to pray for him (8:28). But once the flies are gone, he “hardened his heart” (8:32).

When the next plague comes on the livestock, he investigates it carefully (9:7). He is no longer acting in ignorance and unbelief. So when the plague of hail comes, even Pharaoh’s officials rush to bring their livestock inside (9:20). When locusts are promised, his officials urge him to let the people go (10:7). By the time the tenth plague arrives, the Egyptian people support the Israelites, and Pharaoh’s officials support Moses (11:3). Everyone can see that what is happening is happening because the Lord is God. But Pharaoh willfully and deliberately ignores all this and makes his final decision (10:28-29).

“Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.” “Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”

The die is cast. Pharaoh had seen evidence of the power of God. He knew that the power of God was greater than the demonic power of his magicians, and that it must have come from the finger of God. But he has despised God’s patience, and made his final choice. He won’t get another opportunity to repent.

As it was for Pharaoh, so it was for the Pharisees. They’d seen Jesus’ power, and knew it was stronger than the demonic power present in the evil spirits. They knew it was the Spirit of God at work. In fact, they’d seen and denied it for some time (cf. Matt. 9:34, 10:25). Now they won’t get another opportunity to repent. This generation will be condemned (12:41-42). This sin will not be forgiven.

No escape

In the words of Hebrews 6:4-6, they’d “been enlightened… tasted the heavenly gift… shared in the Holy Spirit… [and tasted] the powers of the coming age”. But they’d rejected what they’d experienced, and now “it is impossible… [for them] to be brought back to repentance”. How can they escape if they ignore so great a salvation?

Hebrews 6 shows us that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is possible in our age, not just the age when Jesus was present on earth. Even today, there are people who know the power of God, but reject it finally and absolutely, knowing they are doing just that. They harden their hearts to the point which they will never be softened again. Their sin is will not be forgiven.

Could that have happened to you? If you’re concerned about it, that’s a clear sign it hasn’t happened to you. If you’ve finally, knowingly, and willfully rejected Jesus as Messiah, your heart is so hard you’d no longer care. If you were reading this article at all, it would be only to mock.

There are very few people in the Bible who we know hardened their heart to such an extent as to commit this sin. Both Pharaoh and the Pharisees had seen the supernatural work of the God so powerfully that nearly all those around them concluded that God’s word was true and his servant was genuine. Only opposition in the light of such strong evidence brought the suggestion that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit had occurred.

This should spur us onto keep praying for those who have rejected Christ. Paul’s testimony proves that rejecting Christ — even violently — does not mean that heaven is forever barred. What grace! But it should also remind us that consistently, deliberately and knowingly rejecting Christ’s offer of forgiveness is dangerous in the extreme — and one day, it will be fatal.

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